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Anthrax Surfaces in Off-Site Mail Facilities Serving Federal Buildings

A filter from the Supreme Court’s off-site mail inspection warehouse tested positive for the deadly bacteria today. Officials say the amount of bacteria is “medically insignificant,” but the Supreme Court closed for testing regardless.

“We have no evidence of any contamination in the Supreme Court building,” Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said. She added that no personnel appear to have been infected by the bacteria that has killed three people in the last month.

According to officials, the court’s mail is initially delivered to the Supreme Court before being taken to the off-site facility for screening. It is then returned to the main court building. As a precautionary measure, the court’s 400 employees are being tested and treated with antibiotics.

Arberg said the court would convene on Monday in a federal appeals courtroom if their chambers are not reopened. If this happens, it will be the first time the court has changed locations since the building was completed in 1935.

A trail around DC

Officials refused to comment whether the Supreme Court’s mail goes through DC’s Brentwood postal processing facility. Four Brentwood mail workers have fallen ill with the inhaled form of anthrax — two have died and the other two are still hospitalized.

In suburban Virginia, officials offered antibiotics to staff at the Central Intelligence Agency when samples showed that anthrax spores were present at their mail processing facility.

Mail has been stopped at the facility, which is separate from the main CIA building.

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow said in the trace amount of anthrax could have come from “incidental contact” with other mail at Brentwood.

Meanwhile, a worker at an off-site State Department mailroom in Sterling, Va. remained hospitalized at Winchester Hospital Center with inhaled anthrax. That worker had contact with mail that had come through Brentwood, and mail bundled in diplomatic pouches from overseas.

Unknown origins

Officials are still unsure of the source of the anthrax being sent through the mail. While original reports of the letter delivered to Daschle’s office described the powdered substance as “weapons grade,” suggesting a government origin, experts now say it is not the most sophisticated kind.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said that a microbiologist could have also created the anthrax; it is therefore impossible to know whether the spores came from a government source or elsewhere.

“While we cannot rule out that it may have been from a foreign nation or state sponsored, its sophistication also indicates it could be produced by a Ph.D. microbiologist — it could be produced in a lab of some sophistication,” Fleischer said.

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